Over more than 30 years, the hard-working Waterdown, ON resident has been a caretaker, trainer and key member of the Flamboro Downs staff.
by Sandra Snyder | Sponsored by Ontario Racing
Caretaker, trainer, racetrack staffer, all-around industry promotor — in three-plus decades of involvement in the harness racing industry Marnie Bochenek has played a wide variety of roles and the Waterdown, ON resident has enjoyed every one of them.
“I can’t picture doing anything else with my life,” she said. “I’ve kind of fulfilled it the way I want.”
First introduced to harness racing by a high school friend who took her along to Jim Whelan’s barn at Flamboro Downs, Bochenek jumped into the industry with both feet when she graduated and has never looked back, or slowed down. Her first job was for Norm McKnight, Jr., followed by stints with Steve Condren, Rob Fellows and Larry Walker, along with a couple of return engagements with McKnight.
“I don’t know how many times I worked for that man,” Bochenek said with a laugh. “It was just, I don’t know, you start working for your first employer and he liked your work ethic and I liked the way he did things, so I guess I just kind of stuck to him.
“He’s one hell of a horseman.”
After absorbing all she could from McKnight and her other mentors, Bochenek started her own stable in the mid-1980s, one of just a handful of women running their own operation at Flamboro Downs at the time. Campaigning horses such as Burning Pockets and Mac Dale in the claiming and conditioned ranks on the Ontario “B” circuit she would accumulate 96 wins and almost $600,000 in earnings before hanging up her colours in 2011.
Throughout her training career, Bochenek always had a variety of side jobs on the go, and in the late 1990s she took on the role of Equipment and Tattoo Inspector at Flamboro Downs. That role, and the energy Bochenek brought to it, led to other opportunities in both the backstretch and grandstand. Currently employed full-time at the Dundas, ON oval, Bochenek wears a variety of hats during the track’s live and simulcast racing operations.
“I do multiple jobs — money room mutuels, paddock judge, backstretch manager, race office —whatever is needed I try to do it for them,” she said. “Woman of many hats, but I love it, it keeps me busy.”
Anyone who has raced at Flamboro Downs has met Bochenek. Hers is the friendly face that greets drivers as they check in and complete their breathalyzer test and the voice on the P.A. marshaling horses into order for each race. She is the backstretch quarterback on race nights —coordinating staff, keeping the judges informed and responding quickly and efficiently to whatever the night throws at her.
On the grandstand side, Bochenek’s role is more backstage support. She ensures the mutual tellers, many of them long-time Flamboro employees, have everything they need to serve customers on live and simulcast nights.
“Saturday is a 15-hour day for me at Flamboro. By the time I do the qualifiers and go back to do my money room mutuels, and then come back for the races, you know, it’s a full day,” said Bochenek with a rueful chuckle. “But I love it, I do, I really love it and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Bochenek’s family has also joined the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation family, with long-time partner Gary Rivest serving as the starting car driver and race night blacksmith, daughter Ashley (soon to be 21) checking equipment and tattoos and helping out in the race office on race nights, and son Matt (19) working full-time on the grandstand maintenance crew.
“I think if we didn’t have our family working for Great Canadian they’d have an issue trying to run the races,” said Bochenek. “And my sister, Tammey (McEneny), she does the food and beverage reservations. She does a really great job, and plus she runs the tote, so she does multiple hats too. Our family is like that, we were raised that way, Tam and I. We had to do a full day of work, we weren’t sitting up on the couch watching TV, we were out doing the barn chores or wherever.”
Bochenek and Rivest also operate a small training facility near Flamboro Downs where Rivest has two horses in training — Two Of Clubs and Piston Popper. Sharing Bochenek’s can-do attitude and willingness to promote harness racing, Rivest and the racehorses can occasionally be found offering rides around the Flamboro Downs half-mile to visiting media or dignitaries. (
) The farm also houses a pair of broodmares, Going With The Flo, a 6-year-old Zorgwijk Lustre mare owned by Rivest’s daughter Natasha who is in foal to Wheeling N Dealin, and Ringing Ofthe Bell, an If I Can Dream mare in foal to Dali.
“We’re experiencing the breeding business. We just bred our mare to Dali and right at this point, hopefully she’s only going to have one, but right now there is two showing. So now we have to wait for 14 days, I think it is, to see what is happening,” said a somewhat worried Bochenek. “Hopefully, one stays and one leaves, because I don’t know how that works.”
Bochenek will have a bit of extra time to worry about Ringing Ofthe Bell when racing shifts from Flamboro to Georgian Downs on June 1, although she does make the trip north any time general manager Chad Gates needs an extra pair of hands at the Innisfil, ON oval. After three months at Georgian Down, action shifts back to Flamboro on Sept. 3 for four nights of racing per week — adding Tuesdays in September and Wednesdays from October through December to the current schedule of Sunday, Thursday and Saturday.
Construction of the expanded casino facility at Flamboro Downs is expected to be complete during the fall meet and Bochenek hopes the additional gaming brings new people to the site and gives them a taste of the industry that has been at the centre of her very full life.
Ontario Racing’s website (www.ontarioracing.com) is home to regular handicapping picks for Ontario tracks from HRU’s Garnet Barnsdale, Michael Bozich and Michael Carter.